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US businesses ordered more factory goods in March

WASHINGTON — U.S. businesses increased orders for industrial machinery, computers and autos in March, lifting factory orders for the fifth consecutive month.

The Commerce Department says orders rose 3 percent in March after a 0.7 percent increase in February. A key category that signals business investment plans rose 4.1 percent after a small increase in February and a big decline in January. Excluding the volatile transportation sector, orders rose 2.6 percent.

The March increase pushed total orders to $462.9 billion, up 31.2 percent from the recession low hit in March 2009. Manufacturing has been one of the strongest sectors of the economy since the recession ended nearly two years ago. A weak dollar is making U.S. exports cheaper overseas and tax cuts are encouraging business investment in capital goods.

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